Telling It: Women and Language Across Cultures


207 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-88974-027-5
DDC C810'.8'09287




Edited by Sky Lee, Lee Maracle, Daphne Marlatt, and Betsy Warland
Reviewed by Kelly L. Green

Kelly L. Green is a free-lance writer living in Ajax, Ontario.


Telling It is a fascinating look at some of the issues that confront
Canadian women who are members of at least one of three different
minority groups. This usually compelling book uses a format that in
other circumstances might be dry and tedious: it is essentially the
edited notes of a 1988 conference held in Vancouver.

The editors of the book are determined, however, to distill and
communicate the essence of a remarkable meeting of minds, and they
succeed beautifully. The book includes not only speakers’ notes, but
original fiction, poetry, and a play. It also includes passionate essays
on the conference and some of its topics, written after the fact by

The three groups represented at the conference were Native women,
Asian-Canadian women, and lesbians. The document produced via the
conference is an overwhelmingly honest look at how women of different
backgrounds confront oppression and try to communicate their experience
to others.

The discussion at the conference centered on two focal points: cultural
“gaps” and the writer’s role in the community. Panelists
discussed, for example, “the difficulties and pleasures of writing in
a language and culture different from your own” and “the
implications of working in the genres of repressed traditions that are
not recognized by mainstream culture as legitimate.” The Native
speakers were particularly eloquent on these topics. Native writer Lee
Maracle clearly expresses the Native people’s frustration at the loss
of their culture: even as Native language was lost to thousands of
children educated at residential schools, “it was in the context of
not being taught English that the prohibition of our language was a most
bitter pill to swallow. . . . As a result both of the prohibition of
their own language and the cutting off of their tribal education at six
years, [some students], having no words in which to imagine why Indians
had to suffer hardship after hardship, committed suicide.”

Space does not allow further discussion of this jewel in the field of
women’s literature. Suffice it to say that the speakers and writers
who participated in this conference have allowed us a precious glance
into their various worlds.


“Telling It: Women and Language Across Cultures,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024,